You’ve seen the buses – now read the book: The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas

The Atheist's Guide to Christmas. Really rather good.

The Atheist's Guide to Christmas. Really rather good.

I found the ‘Atheist buses‘ strangely comforting – although with their jolly slogan declaring “There’s probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life”, it’s probably more accurate to call them agnostic buses.

I lost my faith in organised religion a couple of years ago, at the same time taking up a fairly agnostic position on God’s existence. As a scientist, I don’t see any hard evidence for his/her/it’s existence, although I do see a fair amount stacking up on the “no God” side.  And until the case is proved either way, I don’t really care.

Now the person who brought you the bus campaign, writer Ariane Sherine, brings you the Atheist’s Guide to Christmas (£7.99 or less from Amazon).

It’s a collection of writings from the great and the godless, ranging from the likes of Richard Dawkins, AC Grayling and Charlie Brooker to the relatively unknown comedienne Catie Wilkins (my new comedy-girl-crush) and Graham Nunn (the bedroom designer responsible for the original bus logo).

But is it any good?

It’s certainly highly readable, and I tore through it on a long journey up to Scotland – the benefit of big print on small pages.  And many of the contributions are funny, sentimental and/or thought-provoking.

Dawkins provides a vignette set in a old bufty’s London Club, with the barman dispensing metaphysics, and there are fond reminiscences of Christmases past from people brought up godless, as well as lapsed Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews.

I particularly enjoyed the Science section, with musings from Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, Bad Scientist Ben Goldacre and others.  There’s a great piece from my new hot-science-crush Adam Rutherford entitled “The Ironed Trouser – why 93 per cent of scientists are atheists”.

And if you want a really amazing story, forget the virgin birth, three kings and all that, and read the chapters about the awesomeness of the universe and (as Simon Singh recommends) tune in a radio to hear the static hum left over from the Big Bang.

Some contributions are a bit of a let-down. Charlie Brooker’s effort is a mere pocket-sized polemic that could have offered much more of his trademark spite. The pastiche-y story from the editors of the New Humanist falls a bit flat, and Anna Pickard’s alternative carols are just naff and childish. Plus there are a few chapters at the back that feel a bit like Sherine letting her mates get a plug for their ventures, to pad out the hardback.

These are minor gripes, though. The content is interesting and readable (although a firmer and more pedantic hand with the editing might have helped in some cases) and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I even read the potted biographies at the back, though that might have been because I was stuck on a plane with nothing else for company except the EasyJet in-flight magazine.

However, I think the main problem with this book is that atheism is not a religion (well, duh!). There are no tenets to adhere to – it’s just people living their lives in the way they want, influenced by culture, traditions and their own moral compass.  So The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas does suffer slightly from the smug intellectualism of white middle-class liberal Christian-bashing.

As Robin Ince points out in his piece, it was all fine and dandy to put on ‘9 Lessons and Carols for Godless People’ last Christmas (I played in the orchestra – he mentions us!) – but he wouldn’t get away with a rational Ramadan. It’s fun for the writers to take potshots at Christianity and Judaism, but I doubt that Sherine will be bringing out a “There’s probably no Allah” bus or book any time in the future.

Overall, I enjoyed The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas, and will probably be buying a few copies as presents this year.  Profits from the book are going to Terence Higgins Trust, so all in all it’s a jolly good thing.  Deck the halls, raise a toast, and spread a little rationalism this year.

4 responses to “You’ve seen the buses – now read the book: The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas

  1. Edward M Brown

    Hi Not sure if you are interested in persueing the debate, if you want to call it that, but have you ever wondered what makes people spend hundreds of thousands of their hard earned dollars just to say that they dont think there is a God, ( Or should i say “Proberbly” dont think there is a God) It would be the same thing if i went around spending all my money time and effort telling everyone that Santa Clause is not real, I would be silly and wasting my life and time, why would i need to waste my time telling people that someone does not exist, let them work it out for them selfs or do as they please, if they want to beleive in a person that does not exist that is their folly!
    But have you thought about it this way,
    In their inner heart and concience, they KNOW that there is a God, and they know that they are sinners in his sight, BUT they DONT WANT TO beleive that, cos to beleive that makes them accountable for what they do, and they would have to addmit that they were sinners, they like what they do too much to give it up, and dont want to be told that they are wrong, and that they will go to hell when they die, so therefore if they can find a way to ease their concience and block anything that showes them that there is a God and that they are sinners, then they could do what they wanted with out anyone saying no!

    • Thanks for your sharing your opinion.

      I do not agree with you. To use your own words, “if they want to beleive in a person that does not exist that is their folly!” Good luck with it!

  2. Hi Kat. I just noticed your Reply, Thought it would have notified my email when you replyed, anyway you sound like it does not worry you too much if i never replyed 🙂
    But i must say that it does (and so it Should) concern me when Highly respected and “looked up to” people like Richard Dawkins go world wide and tell EVERYONE that “there PROBABLY is no God, Now stop worrying and enjoy your life!”

    WHY? you might ask!

    Well If you read that Slogan with thought, there is a few messages you can see clearly there.
    No 1. “Probably” This tells you clearly that they are saying that they DON’T know eather way, if there is or if there is not a God.
    No 2. ” Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
    This is giving the Millions of people the idea that they can freely do as they please and whatever they want in life that makes them happy or that they personaly like doing, and not worry about whether there is or is not a God!

    That i guess in it self seems ok, after all, We do ultimatly have the right to make choices for ourselves in life, But the Problem with their message is that it is giving people the idea that “there IS no God, THEREFORE, i can do any thing i want and i wont have anyone to answer to!
    In other words, I can go out and Kill someone if they annoy me, or Blow up a Bus load of people and mame and kill many, or give drugs to kids, or Rape anyone I want, etc etc and Not have to answer to God or anyone when I Die! Because If you think there is no God, then there is no reason for you to worry about Sin and God punnishing you for it, and thus no need to worry about being sent to Hell, to Live there in eternal fire FOREVER.

    this is not good enough. there are people out there who just go along with what they (Richard D and others) say and never take the time or bother to check it out to see if it is true, “Sounds alright”, so they just go along with it, taking their word for it.

    BUT WHAT IF THERE REALLY IS A GOD in heaven, looking down and “beholding the evil and the good.”
    Proverbs 15:3
    The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.

    It makes real SCARRY food for thought:

    People everywere, doing as they please, Lying, Cheating, Stealing, adultery, Murder, Disobedient……….. and on and on it goes, and here they are being told to “Not Worry,” Keep on enjoying life as you like to!
    and so they do!

    and then they Die, the Point of NO Return, WHAT THEN!

    They lived life thinking there was no God
    did as they pleased, thinking all was ok
    and Died
    And Met God Face to Face
    the Point of No Return

    Dont you think that it is a Good Idea for us to PROVE FOR OURSELVES if there is a God, NOW while there is still time to make the right changes and desicions in life, and thus “Enjoy life” MORE Knowing the Truth for ourselves!

    after all, the Bible still says:
    Hebrews 9:27
    And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

    Now is certainly the time to find out the TRUTH.

  3. >People everywere, doing as they please, Lying, Cheating, Stealing, adultery, Murder, Disobedient

    This is a fallacy. People who believe in a religion do not have sole claim to morality or goodness. Likewise, professing to believe is certainly no barrier to any of those behaviours. I have seen some shocking behaviour from believers and non-believers. I’ve also seen incredible acts of kindness, goodness and moral behaviour from both non-believers and believers. We’re all just human beings, doing our thing. Some people are good, some people aren’t. Signing up to a religion is no guarantee of “goodness”.

    >and then they Die, the Point of NO Return, WHAT THEN!

    Then I’m dead. So I think it’s important to live a good life, and fill it with laugh, laughter and kindness. I don’t need a religion to tell me that. And I don’t need the fear of a vengeful god or the hope of an invented afterlife to make me do this.

    You can believe in whatever you like – makes no difference to me. In return, I would hope that you would extend the same courtesy to people who don’t share your beliefs. Here in the non-believing world, we call this tolerance…

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